10 Deserts Project Launch: Karen Wood, Chairman, BHP Billiton Foundation speech

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Old Parliament House, Canberra, 28 March 2018


The BHP Billiton Foundation and the Ten Deserts Project ‘Collaboration’

Thank you, Geoff. I too would like to pay my respects to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and extend that respect to their Elders past, present and future, and any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today to celebrate this launch.

And I would like to thank everyone who is here today for showing their support to this exceptional project. In particular:

  • Melissa Price, Assistant Minister for the Environment:
  • Senator Pat Dodson, Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres
    Strait Islanders;
  • Senator Richard Di Natale, Leader of the Australian Greens; and
  • Other members and senators present.


The BHP Billiton Foundation

As Geoff mentioned, my name is Karen Wood and I’m Chairman of the BHP Billiton Foundation. We are a charity funded by BHP and, through our programs, we seek to address some of the most critical global sustainable development challenges facing our world.

The Ten Deserts Project – which we are so proud to join with you in launching today – is part of the Foundation’s Environmental Resilience Global Signature Program.

Through this program we aim to support new ways of conserving and sustainably managing large-scale, globally significant natural environments for the benefit of future generations.

A resilient environment sustains peoples’ cultures and communities, supports livelihoods, preserves biodiversity and helps society to respond to climate change. Indigenous Peoples’ profound connections to their traditional lands mean resilient environments are particularly important – here in Australia, and all around the world.

For example, last September with support from this same Foundation program, The Nature Conservancy launched a project supporting the aspirations of nine of Canada’s First Nations to have a greater voice in the sustainable management of a section of Canada’s Boreal forest.

While the contrast between the currently snow-bound Canadian Boreal forest and Australia’s scorching deserts could not be more stark, the intent of both these projects is exactly the same: To support the
aspirations of Indigenous Peoples to manage their traditional lands for a range of economic, social, cultural and environmental outcomes. And the only way to make these aspirations a reality is through collaboration.


The Ten Deserts Project

A hallmark for how we work as a Foundation is by supporting the creation of platforms for collaboration across governments, civil society and communities. We believe this is how to create change and a lasting sustainable impact. The Ten Deserts Project typifies this sort of collaboration. Over the past 18 months, seven of Australia’s leading Indigenous organizations, a number of the Traditional Owners they represent and three conservation organizations, including two globally respected organizations have worked intensively to plan and design this unprecedented initiative.

Having had the privilege of going out on country with Indigenous rangers and their Elders a little over a year ago, I want to say how pleased I am that this Project will build on the incredible work by Indigenous rangers across the ten deserts of Australia to look after their country and create a positive future for their young people.

It will also build on the existing successful government funding programs for Indigenous rangers and Indigenous protected areas – programs that have broad political support.

Ten Deserts will give Indigenous rangers and their land management organizations rich opportunities to work together, to share and to learn from each other and to scale-up management through more strategic and regional approaches to the common threats to this globally significant landscape.

This spirit of collaboration was on display this morning, reflected in the diversity of speakers and the diversity of organizations and agencies in the room. With your continued support, the Ten Deserts Project will take collaboration and outcomes to a whole new level.

Geoff’s words about connection – to land, to people and to each other – rang true for me: the Ten Deserts Project will not only connect us, it will also enable powerful collaboration and help to make the aspirations of Traditional Owners real.

I look forward to seeing the Project support and empower the Aboriginal Traditional Owners who live in this remarkable landscape and look after this country.

It has been an honour for me to attend today and I look forward to our shared future together.

Thank you.

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